Wednesday, 24 May 2017


As I'm drifting off to sleep Monday night, Mr SDS joins me having stayed up a little later, and tells me the breaking news he’s just read online.  Details are still sketchy, but it’s bad.

Oh no.  Your heart sinks, just sinks.  The world is a flawed, fractured place, full of twisted, tortured souls.  You shield yourself from it as much as you can, you try at least to be kind, caring, in everyday life.   It’s not hard to be those things, not really - is it?  To just get on with your own life and let others get on with theirs, peacefully?  We're lucky here, imagine life elsewhere... but still.  I slip back into a restless slumber, these thoughts swirling around, wondering what nightmare reality I’ll be reading about on Tuesday, things most of us will never be able to understand.

I’m due to go into central London in the morning too.  “Don’t go”, Mr SDS pleads.  “Don’t go if you don’t have to”.  But I do have to.  I’m very aware that I live much of my life – out here in the quiet countryside - inside a cosy bubble.  There’s the irony:  probably the biggest danger I face on a daily basis is that of an insidious, creeping paranoia about the world outside it.   I must defy that paranoia as much as anything else, I must go because I want to go.  

So I get on the train to London, and on the tube, mingle with travellers in crowded carriages; there are extra police around, there are serious faces, I don’t think that Manchester is far from anyone’s mind this morning.  But there are smiley faces too - cities are gutsy places and they remind you: most people are alright, most people want the same basic, harmless things.  In the city of strangers I’m one of them, not going to give in to fear.

I have such a good day, meeting with lovely friends I haven’t seen in years – catching up over tea and cake and paintings.   I’d have missed all this had I let stupid paranoia win.  It's over too soon, and I walk back to catch my train through the metropolis, lapping up its sharp contrast to my usual habitat, here where the sirens are my screaming swifts and starlings, and office blocks and cranes pierce the sky instead of oak and poplar.  

“This train does stop at Colchester, doesn’t it?”   My solitary daze is broken as the woman with two huge pieces of luggage, almost as big as her, asks me this.  I've just boarded too.  Yes, it’s the right train, so she sits across the aisle from me and continues to talk. 

“I’ve been travelling all day...,” she says,  “...come down from Manchester…”

Weird how one particular word, on one particular day, can carry so much weight and meaning and, right out of the blue, it unites us. 

I’m drawn to her face, and in a split second of silence I’m reading her expression.  I need to talk, it says.  I need to talk about something. She has the air of someone who’s been awake all night, with a body tired but brain still buzzing.  Her bright blue eyes are a little watery.  Then she starts to tell me that she’s in the army, and she’d been called on duty in connection with the Manchester Arena incident.

As other people start to board the train, filling up the seats around me, I could just withdraw from the conversation with the woman across the aisle.  But instead  I find myself moving seats, to be with her.  She needs to talk.  She needs to talk about something.

And so I spend the next hour in unbroken conversation with a complete stranger, who’s been awake for 37 hours and who, in spite of having been stationed in Afghanistan and served as a medic, tells me how intensely affected she feels by the night’s events.  By what she’d seen and heard, what she knew so far, what lies ahead too.  I let her talk.  My eyes are a little watery.

But we speak about other stuff too, and some stuff I never knew, because I’ve never chatted to someone who’s in the army, it’s a world away from mine - a world away from my cosy bubble.  I’m so glad I stepped out of it today; I learned so much more than I ever bargained for.  

There’s no punchline to this, no big revelation… I just want to express it.  My train companion is going to stay in my mind for a very long while.  She needed to talk, and I’m so glad I could listen.

Love and peace to Manchester.


  1. No punchline needed. A powerful and moving piece of writing. Thank you, C.

    1. Thanks Brian, just needed to write a little something, I couldn't get it out of my head yesterday, kept replaying the conversation!

  2. Good on you for switching seats.

    My other half often has meetings in Manchester and she voiced concerns about travelling there in future. Maybe I'm a glass half-full guy (!!!) or maybe I'm just naïve, but when something like this happens, I always think the odds of it happening again in the same place are so slim... coupled with the odds of being one of those affected if it did... that you can't let it stop you living your life. And if you do, of course, they win.

    Then again, thinking of what the loved ones of those lost in Monday's tragic events must be going through right now, you can't imagine ever being in that situation and naturally want to protect both yourself and your own loved ones from it.

    It's a real dilemma, with no pat solution.

    1. A bit unusual to be honest, I like my quiet time on the train and dread being stuck next to a crashing bore, but there was something about this situation that was completely different. I'm so glad I could keep talking to her. It was definitely something about the day itself that just opened up something - a kind of heightened sense of humanity!

      It is a dilemma - the worries are understandable as you say but I do think you just have to carry on as normal, the chances of anything happening are so slim. Absolutely horrific when they happen but still rare; I agree with you about the odds. I can't imagine the resilience needed if you live in a country where attacks of some kind are pretty much an everyday occurrence.

  3. My eyes are a little watery too. This is as powerful a piece of writing about the recent appalling events as I've seen C.
    I can totally understand Mr SDS's concerns - I would've been exactly the same with Mrs S - and I wouldn't have blamed you in the slightest for staying home, but I'm glad that you went about your business undeterred. I'm absolutely certain that your anonymous fellow traveller is too.

    1. Mr SDS will be glad to know you understand, thanks! Lovely though it is, I don't think it helps living and working out here in the sticks because our perspective changes. Can't let that paranoia creep in and limit what we do!

  4. I'm glad you put this into words today as I'm probably not going to be able to. Glad also you enjoyed your day out and were able to spend that hour chatting to someone from a totally different world who no doubt really appreciated the company and who needed to talk.

    Like you, we live in a little bubble up here, so rarely have concerns over our safety on a day to day basis. Also like Rol, I do feel that the chances of something like this happening to us as individuals is still so remote that we have to carry on living our lives as before - Heck, up here, the minute we get into our cars there is a higher likelihood of an injury or fatality than from an attack such as this one.

    Here's the thing though - I mentioned this story over at Rol's place yesterday but played it down as even at a time like this it seemed "uncool" to mention going to an Ariana Grande concert. But, that is exactly where DD would have been on Monday night had she got the time off work. Like many young women her age, she has a GBF (gay best friend) - He is a massive fan of Ariana Grande and planned the trip down to Manchester. He wanted DD to go with him but in the end went with another one of their friends. We checked out his Facebook page on Monday night before going to bed and of course it was full of the excitement of being in the arena and seeing Ariana live in concert. When I woke up and heard the news I was in shock but had to let DD know what had happened - As it turned out she already knew and the GBF was safe and had been updating her on events. As someone who still panics if I don't get a reply within 10 minutes of texting DD, I just cannot imagine what the parents of some of those very young teens must have gone through on Monday night. I heard today on the news that a couple of Polish parents had been killed in the foyer area but their two children who were in the arena were ok - NO, they will never be ok again. This was the lowest form of attack in that the victims on the whole were children, simply watching their pop hero in action. I feel desperately sorry for those who have lost someone but I am just very glad that in this instance our daughter was nowhere near. She heads off abroad on holiday in a couple of weeks time and is suddenly a bit more wary than before - I of course now want to wrap her up in cotton wool and keep her at home but that would never do. Life is to be lived and the minute we change our behaviour in any way we are giving in.

    Sorry, filled up your comments space but done now. Well done you on making the trip to London - Only thing to do. As for Ariana Grande, hope she can recover from this - A very hard thing to deal with indeed.

    1. Ah Alison, thanks for writing all this. There's not much I can add - you must have had so many thoughts go through your head since Monday night, all the "what ifs" . Not being a parent I can only imagine the sense of protection one must feel for their offspring, well even Mr SDS felt it about me doing a day trip to London so soon after the incident, so yes it must be hard.

      As you say, life is to be lived - and lived to the full if you can - I do hope your daughter has a truly lovely holiday, I'm sure she will - but keeping in touch by the occasional text will certainly help ease any concerns!

  5. James lives in Manchester. I rang him at the crack of sparrows when I heard. 'We're fine' came the reply.
    However, a friend's brother who was at the concert wasn't - he was one of those named today. James is still trying to come to terms with it all. He's not the only one.

    1. Oh no, I'm so sorry to hear this John. My heart goes out to anyone with any connection to those there. Words won't do it - so difficult to get your head around. Take care.


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